Monday, April 27, 2020

Not If But When... Maybe?

Jeff Passan at ESPN has a really good article up on the site today regarding the potential return of Major League Baseball.

Passan begins by expressing a lot of optimism that we'll see a return of some sort of  baseball in 2020, and also mentions the sanguineness of the folks who run the game. There really does seems to be a growing consensus, although it would be nice if some kind of substantial and detailed plan comes out. If we all knew exactly what baseball is working towards we'd have something on which to base our hopes. The plans all still seem quite nebulous and changeable. My personal optimism seems to rise and fall depending on the day.

The biggest obstacle seems to be the still quite glaring lack of adequate testing in this country. Without a vaccine, which we certainly won't see this year, testing is everything - whether it's a plan to reopen the game or just getting people back to work. We keep hearing promises of greatly expanded testing, but the date when that might be a reality gets pushed farther and farther off. That hardly inspires confidence in any plan succeeding.

Then, of course, there's the question of where these games might be played.  The idea of everyone playing in one place, like the Arizona plan, seems to be giving way to playing ball in hubs in different parts of the south. Maybe even opening other parts of the country.

I'm personally skeptical of playing games in non-domed stadiums in the hottest parts of the country during the hottest time of year. Moreover, two of the states that Passan mentions as already being in the process of reopening are Georgia and Texas. The problem is, if you're paying attention at all, their "plans" for reopening are sketchy and lacking in science. I'm not sure if I was a suit with some say in MLB that I'd want to put all of my eggs in those two leaky baskets.

Passan suggests that Major League Baseball needs to finalize a plan in May, and I would tend to agree with that. Even if the plan isn't to reopen things until later in the summer, waiting too long to have a plan is going to work against the chance of one actually succeeding. I find the constant emergence of "new" plans more unsettling than reassuring.

Passan also tosses out an idea that I batted around a while back. If baseball can't make it back until the fall where the idea of any meaningful regular season is laughable, just have some sort of big tournament to crown a champion for 2020. You wouldn't give a championship won in this manner the same weight as one earned in a normal year, but it would be a hell of a lot more fun to watch, and certainly much better than no baseball.

Passan also touches on how Coronavirus might affect the Minor Leagues going forward, a subject that we certainly care about on this blog,  I found it interesting that he characterized Minor League Baseball's attempt to fight the disaffiliation of 40 minor league cities as a "disastrous power play" on their part. While Passan is certainly right that the economic threat that the pandemic poses to Minor League ball in general is going to short-circuit that attempt, I don't see how you can fault these teams from doing all they could to try to stop it.

I've already written about my own local observations on how hard it is to sustain an unaffiliated franchise. All of the cities that lose affiliated clubs are in very real danger of losing baseball, period. I'm skeptical that putting some or all of them together in a "Dream League" is going to save the day. But, of course, I feel for all of minor league baseball right now. As with any small business, these clubs are going to struggle to make it to the other side of the COVID-19 nightmare.

There's more to chew on in Passan's article. Well worth a read, and free to everyone.

There's another article on ESPN from the AP about the feeling of Ranger's management that their brand-new domed stadium in Arlington could be a major part of a north Texas hub. Sounds good, but, at least to me, there are still the twin questions of whether Texas is reopening with a real plan (doubtful), and the fact that we're still only talking about a single domed stadium. To me that was always a problem with the Arizona plan.

It's good and important to keep hope alive. Still, there really needs to be an actual plan sooner rather than later. Without that, it's not really hope, it's just a pipe dream. And frankly, I'm starting to get a little tired of those.

Stay well, everyone, as we all hope for a real return of baseball.  Back tomorrow.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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